Questlove's mistake: How The Roots and Jimmy Fallon's sexist stumble blundered into The Right's war with NBC
Drummer/bandleader Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson is a smart, cheeky sort of dude who loves tweaking celebrity guests by choosing appropriately obscure tunes as walk on music when they appear on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
So I'm not surprised that The Roots mastermind and Late Night bandleader seemingly had little idea what a crapstorm of controversy he was going to kick up when he selected Fishbone's Lying Ass Bitch as walk-on music for GOP presidential nomination candidate Michele Bachmann.
Questlove had already made headlines of a different sort not long ago, Tweeting early news that he saw police massing for what turned out to be a massive raid on the Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park in New York. Listen to The Roots jams or peruse his Twitter feed and it's obvious; he's a Fight the Power kind of guy (he does have a picture with Democratic president Barack Obama as his Twitter page icon).
But his selection of a profane, borderline sexist intro song for the only woman in serious contention for the GOP presidential nomination, didn't just make him, his band and the show look like the kind of liberals willing to go there when it serves their cause. It also placed them all center stage in the ongoing struggle between the right wing and NBC News.
Thanks to left-leaning MSNBC, conservatives will always hold a special hate for NBC, boosted by Saturday Night Live's unerring talent for lampooning the choicest absurdities in the GOP and conservative politics.
So it, again, was no surprise when Bachmann lashed out against NBC on the political tip, noting, “If that had been Michelle Obama, who’d come out on the stage, and if that song had been played for Michelle Obama, I have no doubt that NBC would have apologized to her and likely they would have fired the drummer, or at least suspended him," she said to Fox News, noting the incident smacked of sexism, too. “This is clearly a form of bias on the part of the Hollywood entertainment elite."
And unfortunately for NBC, Bachmann was right. Not about the bias stuff -- nobody expects entertainers to be objective like journalists -- but on the sexism stuff, she was on the mark. No need to use the b-word in a typically demeaning way, dismissing women without engaging their ideas.
Even the Women's Media Center, which often focuses on liberal causes in opposition to Bachmann's conservative politics, criticized Fallon and NBC both for the song choice itself and for initial reactions to the controversy which seemed to shrug off its awful impact.
Fortunately, smarter heads inside NBC prevailed and the company eventually did apologize to Bachmann, with a letter from a company vice president calling the incident "not only unfortunate by unacceptable."
(As a side note: it was also interesting watching TV outlets try to report on the offensiveness of the song title without repeating it's two curse words. CNN, as you see below, used enough # signs that the title looked like Hieroglyphics and local Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13 initially goofed and said the song's title was Fishbone.)
Not to excuse Quest and his mistake, but even when I interviewed him before the band debuted on Late Night, he was talking about playing controversial walk-on music for celebs, including either Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" or Prince's "Sexy M-F" for 30 Rock star Tina Fey, who he admitted crushing on big time.
Hopefully Quest has learned his lesson, and not just about how easy it is to get conservatives mad at NBC.
Because it is also too easy to let sexist comments fly when the target is a political opponent. And if there's one lesson we all should have learned, more than 30 years after the birth of the modern-day women's movement, it;s how wrong that kind of thinking truly is.